How to Homeschool: Switching from Public School to Homeschooling

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happy family shows off their Sonlight curriculum after switching from public school to homeschool

To say I was a reluctant homeschooler is an understatement. When my husband suggested we switch to homeschool, I said, “You’re not going to enslave me like that! No way!”

As an introvert, I did not want to be stuck with my children at home. I knew they would drive me crazy. I felt I was not fit for this task.

A reluctant homeschool convert

And then John came home with the idea of natural, literature-based education. And I tried it.

It transformed our family. It transformed my relationship with our children. It transformed all of our relationships.

What’s more, our children got a great education. And, we all enjoyed the process even through the years of homeschooling high school.

You can learn how to homeschool.

An oversimplification of the story? Yes. But if you're thinking about transitioning from traditional school to homeschool, I'd love you to think about the long view: Even if the prospect seems overwhelming, you really can learn how to homeschool and enjoy it.

When we talk about the transition from public school to homeschool, it’s so good to remember that all the advice in the world can’t compete with getting to know your child’s unique needs. Just as you are their best teacher, you’re also the ideal guide to love your kids through new experiences.

“You’re cheating me out of a good education.”

my fifth grader

I’ll never forget the night when I knew we'd bring my daughter Amy home from school.

I had just begun homeschooling Luke and Jonelle in kindergarten and first grade. Amy was in fifth grade in private school—the perfect student—getting good grades. Everything seemed to be moving along smoothly.

Over dinner, my homeschooled kindergartner and first-grader were telling my husband John how they had learned about centrifugal force that day.
Amy was appalled that she had yet to learn about centrifugal force. She pleaded with us to homeschool her, too. Although we were spending significant dollars on her private school, she believed she was being cheated out of a good education by not being homeschooled. What a request!

The stress lifted after our transition from public school to homeschool

We brought her home the next year with a bit of trepidation. I had two primary concerns with bringing her home:

  1. I was already teaching two young students how to read while watching a toddler who wouldn't nap.
  2. Of all my four children, Amy’s learning style was most suited to a classroom environment—she did exceedingly well, providing what the teacher wanted. Worksheets didn't bother her.

If it’s not broken, why fix it? And yet, when your fifth grader begs you to bring her home because she doesn't want to miss out, what do you do?

two brothers sit behind a pile of homeschool curriculum. A brown dog sits beside them.

Although Amy had been doing well in school, I was amazed to see a transformation in her attitude immediately. It was as if a huge weight of stress had been lifted that we hadn't even realized was there. Where she used to sometimes needle her siblings to rile them up, now I saw her relax into her own personality and be the leader and peacemaker she was born to be. What a relief! How reassuring to see that even the dutiful student thrives in the homeschool setting.

Are you thinking of making the switch to homeschool? Are you asking, “How do I transition to homeschool?”

Let me offer you peace of mind as you transition to what I believe to be a fabulous way to educate your kids. Here are nine tips on how to homeschool that will ease the transition from public school to homeschool:

1. Bring your kids into the conversation

Get on the same page with your spouse and talk about this decision with your whole family. Share your goals with your children and listen to their excitement and concerns. Identify what you're aiming for, not just what you're trying to avoid in the school setting.

2. Legally withdraw your child from public school to homeschool

This process varies from state to state and system to system. So first check your state's legal requirements. Typically, there is a form or some sort of document used to formally withdraw your child in order to homeschool. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association has a helpful interactive map that will guide you.

Can you start homeschooling at any time?

You may be wondering about the timing of this switch. Is it best to make this decision between school years so that your child completes one school year in public school and then transitions to homeschooling in the fall with a fresh school year? This kind of clear-cut division makes sense to a lot of parents and feels like the right way to handle a switch to homeschooling. There’s a fear of quitting that keeps many families locked into finishing a school year. 

But instead of thinking of each school year as a discrete unit, think of all of life as a learning journey. And then ask if you want to continue even a few days longer with an educational environment that’s not working. Make the course correction as soon as you realize it needs to be made! 

  • Can you switch to homeschool in the middle of the year? Absolutely! You can legally make this transition any time of the school year or calendar year. The timing is up to you and your own preferences. But if you know you’re going to take the leap, do it as soon as is feasible for your family.
  • At what age can you start homeschooling your child? Technically, you’ve been teaching your kids since birth! Some families do preschool at home and call that homeschooling. Other families don’t call it homeschooling until their child would have been obligated to attend school (in kindergarten). Other families initially enroll their children in public school and later opt to homeschool. This change can happen in very early grades, in upper elementary, in middle school, and even in high school. You can start homeschooling at any age or grade. 

3. Don't recreate school at home

Trying to recreate the school environment in the home is an easy trap to fall into. This can happen in your schedule or approach, but also if you try to separate your role of teacher and parent. Homeschooling is an entirely new category!

My son Luke attended kindergarten, and when he came home in first grade, I remember him looking at me with a quizzical look. I could see him thinking, “Wait, you’re my mom, how can you be my teacher?”

We have to be authentic with our kids. Rather than trying to change hats throughout your day from teacher to parent with false formality, it helps to integrate your learning and teaching into your parenting and lifestyle.

General Questions on How to Start Homeschooling You May Be Asking

When you get down to the nitty-gritty of planning your homeschool day (check out our helpful Instructor’s Guide), choosing resources, and allocating a budget, a myriad of second thoughts and questions arise. We’ve written extensively about all of these common concerns elsewhere. Click through to read the answers on how to homeschool.

a boy holds a book about caterpillars and butterflies while his sister holds a green caterpillar

4. Give time to adjust and de-school

Give yourself room to breathe! Realize it might take some time to find your groove when switching from public school to homeschool.

  • Some families take a few weeks (or a couple months!) to just enjoy being together again and to work slowly into new routines.
  • You might start just a couple subjects at a time and ramp into a full workload.
  • Consider planning some memory-making fun the first week to celebrate the change to homeschooling and share with your kids a positive vibe. Go to the zoo in the middle of the day, or eat donuts in your pajamas. Let it sink in that you can do that now!

Every family is different. Make your decisions and schedule fit your family's needs.

5. Enter relationship boot camp

Get ready to work on your relationships and enjoy them in new ways.

One of the greatest benefits to homeschooling is quality time with your kids. It can also be an adjustment in the beginning to spend so much time together.

(This totally terrified me before I began homeschooling. I soon realized my worries were unfounded and that I actually liked being with my kids! But all good relationships take work.)

More time together means you may initially notice both more of the good and more of the bad. This is a gift! You want to know what is going on in your kids' minds and hearts. If you can work through the tough things that come up, you will come out stronger and enjoy one another in your family all the more.

Commit yourself to look for the positive and affirm the good things you see in your kids. Lean into helping everyone develop the kind of character they need to be mature adults one day, while letting them know you are on their side.

9 Ways to Ease Your Transition from Public School to Homeschool

6. Find a support network

You want supportive friends who can help you during the hard times and celebrate the victories of your homeschool journey. You also want to find places your kids can connect with other homeschoolers. A local homeschool group is often a great way to meet both these needs.

Enjoy getting involved, but be careful not to over-commit as you adjust to the new life of homeschooling!

For online connection, get the Sonlight Connections app and follow #sonlightstories on Instagram.

7. Plan social times with both old and new friends

Think broadly as you connect with people from your community. Planning playdates with public school friends as well as new homeschool friends can reassure your kids that they can maintain relationships while they also make new ones.

8. Tweak as you go

Observe your family as you go and continue to adjust to what works best for you. You'll be amazed at how much you learn about your children's personalities and how they best learn. You'll also start to get a feel for how you like to teach.

One of the beautiful things about Sonlight's guarantee is that you have time to really get into the program and try it out and still return it or swap it for a better fit. Even if you decide mid-year to try a different level, you have the freedom to do that. We really want every family to love learning together and want to do whatever we can to make that happen!

Curious About How to Homeschool But Nervous About the Commitment?

Homeschooling is a huge responsibility. And you may be wondering if there’s an escape hatch in case it turns into a fiasco. Can a homeschooled child go back to school? And if yes, what about switching from homeschool to public school midyear

Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. And it may be viable only for a season. For example, we’ve heard stories from widowed moms or moms going through cancer treatment who couldn’t maintain the energy or time commitment that homeschooling requires. They found the support they needed by sending their children back to public school. 

Let me reassure you that, yes, you can always pull the plug on the homeschool experiment and send your child back to public school. The state is legally obligated to provide your child a free education, and opting to homeschool for a season or a few years does not negate that responsibility. There will always be a place for your child at your local public school. 

Sometimes the best choice is to return to public school after a stint of homeschooling. Before you abandon homeschooling though, try a different curriculum, use a different weekly schedule, or talk to an Advisor to see what other changes might make homeschooling doable for you if you have a strong desire to continue. 

9. Get expert help on how to homeschool

If you are transitioning from traditional school to homeschool and have specific questions, please contact a Sonlight Advisor (a veteran homeschooler) who can offer a free consultation and walk you through curriculum options.

Are you thinking of making the switch to homeschoolWant to learn how to homeschool?

You CAN teach your kids at home! A well-planned curriculum makes it so easy, and you can trust that you are giving your kids all the academics they need.

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You'll be encouraged by the words of founder Sarita Holzmann, inspired by real-life stories from other homeschoolers, pick up practical tips for the journey and more.

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